In 1981, Sandusky bought KWFM from original owner Alvin Korngold. Business tradition dictates the new owners always install their own management and they tapped Jim Hardy to run the operation for them.
Jim understood KWFM was already a well-lubed, smooth running Rock 'n Roll machine and didn't need to have the proverbial engine rebuilt: "Lee Dombrowski stayed on as General Sales Manager, Jimmy Ray was Program director, and Jim Owens was Production Director.
As Lee recalls, "I was delighted that Jim kept me on it was a great team. I believe I learned more in those three years than I had in the previous ten."
Since KWFM, Jim has held senior management positions at a few of radio's brightest stars: KBPI (Denver), KOME ("I KOME in my car!" in San Jose), and Modern Rock's "Live 105", KITS (San Francisco). Jim sums up what most of the staff have told me about their KWFM experience: "It was a magic time for me in my broadcast career and I reflect on it often."
We asked Jim to tell us his K-dub story.
"My first introduction to KWFM was in the spring of 1981. Sandusky Radio held a management meeting at the Westward Look Resort. Eric Hauenstein, the former owner of KDKB in Phoenix was running Sandusky for Dudley White. I was there as the General Sales Manager of KPBI in Denver. Toney Brooks was the General Manager.
"Sandusky was in the process of purchasing KWFM from Alvin Korngold and was awaiting FCC approval. Lee Dombrowski, General Manager of KWFM was invited to attend.
"Lee had put together a bus trip for the group to Nogales, Mexico for dinner at La Caverna. The bus stayed in Arizona and we all walked across the border to the restaurant. After dinner, the group split up to tour the city. Lee and I ended up together and he took me on a tour of some back alley "Men's Bars". I think that was when we became friends.
"In the early part of the summer, Toney Brooks, who by then had been promoted to President of Sandusky, informed me that I would be going to KWFM as General Manager and I began working on plans for the transition. I knew we would be using an IBM System 32 computer for traffic and billing and began setting up the process with Columbine Systems in Golden, Colorado.
"The closing was to take place on the first of August, so I made plans to have all of my furniture and belongings shipped to Tucson. However, the closing was delayed until the 15th.
"Toney and I arrived in Tucson on the 15th and checked into the Hilton Hotel on Congress. He had a meeting scheduled with Lee and I waited in my room. Then Toney called me to come down and he introduced me to Lee as the NEW GM.
"What I didn't know until much later, was the staff of KWFM had been waiting at the station for news. A phone call came into the station from my then girlfriend and later my wife, Carol. She was calling to see if I had made it safely to Tucson. So they had an early hint of what was going to happen.
"The next morning, there was a general staff meeting at the station. To this day, I'm not sure who looked more like 'a deer caught in the headlights,' me or the staff. I'm sure they were seeing these corporate guys in suits and wondering whether they were all being replaced. I was thinking that this is going to be a challenge and did I make the right decision?
"After the meeting and everyone had gone, I started doing some housekeeping the rest of Saturday and Sunday. I set up my office, cleaned the break room, defrosted the refrigerator, and bought coffee, sugar, filters and creamer along with cups, napkins and a tablecloth. Everything, including fresh hot coffee and donuts was ready for Monday morning.
"From that day forward, a new age was born at KWFM. It was a blending of cultures: Corporate vs. Free Form pure rock. But it worked. The discussions over policy and procedures, music formats, sales efforts, bookkeeping, and a new spirit of success were endless. It was not easy for me and certainly not for the staff. Converting from manual program logs to computer generated logs and accounting, all took their toll. Everyone rose to the occasion. We also installed the new production room in the old AM studio. The engineer from KDKB had it done in a day as the counters and equipment were all modules that bolted together and plugged in. Heaven!
"Then, it came the time for a music format adjustment. Lee, Jimmy and I met for dinner at the Double Tree Hotel with Jeff Pollack. Jeff was the programming consultant for KBPI and he outlined what was to happen the next day. I admit I was concerned as both Lee and Jimmy were not happy. The next day, about 2/3 of the record library was removed from the control room. Jeff and Jimmy instituted the new format in an index card file to control rotation and cut selections.
"We made some staff adjustments, not many, but a few, and it all seemed to come together. When the fall Arbitron came out, we had climbed to a 10.4! There was a group of K-Dub fans that demanded a meeting with me. We met and they threatened a boycott of our sponsors unless we changed back to the old format. Right outside my office was the sales area and most of the salespeople were at their desks. I pointed to them and told the group that if they started the boycott, the sales department would launch a class action suit against them for impeding their ability to make a living. Total bluff, but it seemed to work. No Boycott and sales increased and we actually made a profit ($150.00) the first month.
"I recall an air staff meeting I called to be held at Scordato's. Lee, Jimmy and I were there early and placed the new KWFM gray satin jackets with the logo on the back of each chair. I think they were all surprised and seemed to like them.
"Then time came for the task of searching for new offices and studios. The building on Alameda was destined to be torn down and I think we were about the last tenants. I finally found a great space at 5151 E. Broadway on the 5th floor. It had been the headquarters for Cieniga Homes. It was perfect. Plenty of room for main control room with news booth, production room and a news and Jock prep room. There were plenty of offices plus cubicles for the sales staff. We furnished it with old furniture from KDKB as they had just moved to a new location. Chris Ryan kept going back to the old building and carrying over items he wanted in the new studio. To us, it was like hitting a jackpot. He just couldn't give up everything old. I particularly loved the conference room with a view and a "killer" square conference table with overstuffed chairs. A lot of good meetings and a few parties took place in that room. It took the place of the Old Sameniego House.
"We did a lot of promotion. Decals, coffee mugs that displayed the logo when filled with hot coffee, T-shirts, buttons and other things I can't remember. We had a big hit with the Hose Head shirts that a street artist air-brushed for us at this little shop by the campus. It went over so well that even KBPI picked it up.
"How about our softball team? I remember one game where Scott Vaughn, the GM at KGUN, had his whole team hitting to right field... right to me as he knew I couldn't run very fast. We lost!
"We also did 'Commercial Free Mondays'. This was a huge hit with listeners and DJs. It got a lot of press thanks to David Hatfield and his media column.
"One of the best promotions was the Rolling Stone bus tour to Red Rocks in Denver. We sold the tickets at the station and had a line out of the door. Did we make any money on that one? Maybe not, but it was one hellava promotion, T-shirts and all.
"As MTV was beginning, not everyone had cable access in those days. We decided to do the KWFM Rock and Roll Picture Show. Using videos from the record companies, teaming with KGUN Channel 9 and Jimmy Ray as the VeeJay, it also was a success. I still remember the white sport jacket Jimmy wore. I think we got it on trade, right? (Yep, we did.) We were up for an award for the show at the advertising club, but someone on the board determined it was 'without' merit. We all got up in the middle of the award ceremony and walked out unceremoniously. I guess we had "attitude" and rightfully so.
"Our big record album promotion was a combined on-air and sales promotion. I'll have to ask my Sales Manager how well it did for the sales effort. I know we distributed a lot of LPs. I still have one in a box in my sister's basement in Denver.
"We went all out for the U of A Spring Fling. I think we were live and co-sponsored a lot of activities.
"A few personality anecdotes:
"Jim Owens was a very different person. He was so quiet and determined to do a great job. He and his wife, Donna, were so nice and gracious to me when I first arrived. But, Jim had a habit of bringing his lunch to work everyday and placing it in the refrigerator. Many days he would just forget it and it would sit there until he brought a new one in the next day. I tried to help as Donna complained that he didn't eat his lunch. I bought him a Snoopy or Scooby Doo metal lunch box so he wouldn't forget. When Sandusky bought a station in Kansas City, I encouraged Jim to apply for the PD job. I don't think he really wanted to leave and I have to admit I may have pressured him a little. I thought it would be a great move for him. He did a great job.
"Bob Cooke was a real management challenge. He was a free spirit and as politically incorrect as anyone could be. He did what he felt like doing and it was hard to control an exceptional talent and keep it constructive and productive. I remember he would come to work everyday with all of his 'stuff' in a shopping bag from the Limited. I think that is where his wife Lau worked. Records, papers, lunch, whatever! I had an old black briefcase that I doctored up a little with his name and a big star on the side and gave it to him. As I recall, he didn't think it was very funny and I can't remember if I ever saw it again.
"His death was a shock that I was neither ready for nor were all his friends on staff and, of course, his fans. In 36 years in the radio business and 22 years as a GM, I never experienced or witnessed the trauma that his untimely death caused.
"The story of Chris Ryan and his evening with Frank Zappa is legendary. Months later, I was flying somewhere and picked up an Arizona Highways magazine on the plane and there was an interview by Zappa deriding KWFM and the management for not letting him have his way on the air for two hours. I'm sure Chris never quite recovered from that event. Jim Ray, the P.D., was the one who Frank told the audience at the concert that night at the U of A to call, 'Call Jim Ray, "The Suit" that was destroying radio.' Funny thing, Jim didn't even own a suit! Jim was home sick with a temperature of 100+ and called Chris and told him to pull the plug after Frank had went off on a tangent about what was happening to radio. KWFM was one of the only radio stations that still played some of his records, just not the new one he wanted us to play in its entirety.
"There are so many things I remember from time to time and I try hard to remember names, but at my age, that is another challenge. I remember Shirley Maher, our bookkeeper; Christine, the receptionist, a nut job always talking about her rich Sheik singing "Shattered!". The beautiful Philippine girl, who did traffic on the new computer was another free spirit. Lovely Lupe Lopez, receptionist and later traffic on Broadway. The nut case who later was our receptionist and enjoyed calling in bomb threats, imaginary muggings and setting fires in Jimmy Ray's waste basket, all resulting in multiple building evacuations. The sales staff with Bruce, Sue, Jeannie, Randy and Dave and a bunch of names that escape me now, and the discussions about sales dress code come to mind. The conversations with clients like Kalil Bottling, Pepsi Cola, Jim Click and Jack Furrier about the 'high' price of KWFM advertising. Kimberly, our newsperson, who was fun to work with and she and her husband won the prize at the Halloween party (where, when, what was the prize I don't recall) as the Widettes from SNL. Wendell, part-time engineer and the night someone broke into the transmitter building and started dismantling all the equipment thru the roof air shaft. The only way we knew it was happening was that the station went off the air. Larry Miles ended up working for me as Music Director at KOME in San Jose for awhile.
"I met a lot of great people in Tucson during my stay. I remember Lee and I met with Moe Udall at his office for the purpose of Ascertainment of Community Needs, a part of station license renewal. We then had lunch with the Congressman at the Rocky Mountain Oyster Club near his office. What a gentleman.
"Pete Ronstadt was Chief of Police of Tucson at the time. He stopped by the station a time or two just to talk about music. I'm not sure if we ever played his music or his sister Linda's records, but he was a great guy.
"My dear friends, Lee Dombrowski and Jimmy Ray Cobb, have contributed greatly to our lives. We have been friends for 29 years. We have shared a lot. They both have daughters born during my first year at KWFM. Both are grown and leading lives on their own. I cherish the fact that Carol and I were there for both births and being the parents of 6 children between us and the grandparents of 9, we appreciate what they have experienced and enjoyed over the years. We send all of our best to Sara and Colby in their lives.
"All in all, I spent less than two years in Tucson. Toney called me back to Denver to take over KBPI/KNUS when he decided to move the corporate office to LA. Lee was back as GM at KDub and Nancy Willson came on board from KCUB as Sales Manager. I did make it back a couple of times. I vividly remember the meeting I held in the Casita at the Double Tree to announce the sale to Behan. I think there were a few tears that night. But, somehow we all survived. I think my time at KWFM prepared me for the next 17 years I spent as VP/GM in Denver, San Jose and San Francisco. I will never be able to thank everyone there for the fun of learning a new job as GM. I know I fooled most of you but I did learn and all of that experience served me well thru the rest of my career. As I've said before, "It was a magic time never to be repeated".
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